III. THE PRESENT PATH TO FAILURE
It is easy to calculate what would happen with the Open cycle. Global nuclear electricity production was about 270 GWy-e in 2010. There are now some 73 large reactors under construction and 299 proposed around the world. A programme to match the 2000 GWy-e of Coal by 2050 would need an increase of 43 GW-e every year. However, by 2050 all the Found, RAR, and Inferred Uranium sources would have been exhausted. The 2000GW-e fleet would then consume the rest of the 23MT Uranium by 2080 as shown in the Chart below.
The bolder “Growth” target of 3500 GW-e to match rising energy needs would collapse by 2060. The “Best” way to avoid a lot of early reactor retirements is to target only 1567 GW-e which would displace 75% of present coal use but allow that fleet to run till 2100. It takes 10 years to bring a new Uranium mine to production, so rapid exploration is required.
The Low case, just replacing existing reactors, could continue till 2430 but has no impact on coal or global warming. Each programme has the same result of creating 2.3Mt of Spent Fuel and leaving 21.7Mt of Depleted Uranium squandered.
It takes 190 tonnes of natural Uranium to make the 20t fuel load of 5% enriched PWR fuel, leaving 170t of DU. The world has accumulated 1.2Mt of DU which breeders could turn into fissile Pu-239. The world reserves of Oil are 230 Billion tonnes. The DU energy content is equivalent to 8800 Bt Oil and is already the largest standing energy resource on the planet!
The UK already owns enough DU to run a Closed cycle all-electric Britain for 500 years [McNamara, 2006, 2007], but not when it is buried or sold as waste as the UK is doing. Proper use of this would make the UK independent of Russian coal and gas imports.
The PWR of course breeds some Pu-239 from the U-238 in the fuel rods. It only achieves a breeding ratio of 60% or a 3% fissile content in Spent fuel, which is to be buried. The world inventory is 176000 t, containing 5,280 t of fissile fuels.
It is almost incomprehensible that such gigantic energy resources could be abandoned this way.
A turning point lecture on the long term prospects for Nuclear and Fusion energy. (20 min. read)
McNamara 2007, Carbon Free Electricity, Powerpoint.
Can the nuclear industry really build reactors at the required rate?
Why are there no plans to use all the Depleted Uranium?
Why is it worth reprocessing Spent Fuel when there is only 5280t of fissile materials in the world inventory.